Alberta is taking measures to prepare for its upcoming wildfire season, which is expected to coincide with the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Precautionary measures include a fire ban, increased fines, off-highway vehicle restrictions, funding community FireSmart initiatives, and hiring additional firefighters.
“These early preparedness measures will ensure the province can effectively focus resources where they are needed most in the event of multiple emergencies happening at the same time,” says a release from the province.
According to the province, the wildfire hazard is highest in Alberta in late April through May, when trees and grasses have extremely low moisture content after the snow has melted.
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“Albertans are tough and we’re all doing what we can to keep each other safe during COVID-19,” said Devin Dreeshen, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry.
“With Alberta’s wildfire season matching with the expected peak of COVID-19, we have to take extra precautions to ensure our response efforts are well-funded and planned out. This spring, we may find ourselves facing multiple disasters at once. With all these measures, we will be prepared.”
Alberta Parks is instituting a fire ban in all provincial parks and protected areas, as well as a recreational OHV ban on Crown land in the Forest Protection Area. The changes will come into effect April 15.
“The fire ban and OHV restriction are temporary measures, which will remain in place only as long as required to combat the wildfire risk. Measures may later be adjusted to take into account the needs of specific regions,” says the release.
All fire permits will be suspended in this area, and landowners are responsible for ensuring any holdover fires are extinguished by the time the changes come into effect.
According to the province, 71% of last year’s wildfires were started by people, reflecting the importance of preventative measures.
Fines are also being doubled from $300 to $600 for non-compliance with a fire ban and from $600 to $1,200 for non-compliance with an OHV restriction.
“Individuals found contravening a fire ban or OHV restriction will be subject to increased fines, starting April 15, and could be held liable for all costs associated with fighting a wildfire,” says the release.
Last year, the province spent more than $600 million fighting wildfires in Alberta.
The province has also invested an additional $5 million to hire and train 200 firefighters to assist with the provincial wildfire suppression this season, and will provide a $20 million funding boost for FireSmart to support vegetation management in the province.
More than a million acres burned last year, so this year the province has reinforced the Provincial Operations Centre by the creation of a Pandemic Response Planning Team to help coordinate the response to multiple challenges at once.
“Our province is taking steps to prepare for wildfires and other hazards this spring and summer by increasing our emergency response capacity,” said Kaycee Madu, Minister of Municipal Affairs.
“This means that while we continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, we will also be ready to respond to other emergencies as they may arise.”